This is the beginning of one of the most famous rivalry in the history of video games, the one between SEGA and Nintendo. To all the millennials: PlayStation Vs. Xbox is nothing, this is the real deal. Today, July 15th but in 1983 SEGA released its first console, the SG-1000, the same day Nintendo showed to the world the Famicom. The war begins…
The story in a nutshell
In the early 80s SEGA, a subsidiary of Gulf and Western, was a company that cut its teeth inthe arcade market, becoming one of the leading companies in the manufactory. The decline of the arcade market of those years led Gulf and Western to rely on the advice of Sega Enterprises president Hayao Nakayama who thought that the only way for the company to be profitable gain was to enter the blooming home entertainment market, leveraging on the company experience and know-how.
When the company gave the green light to Nakayama, he started to work on the new console, using off-the-shelf components to both keep costs down and ensure longevity and in 1983, the year of the crash in the US, the SEGA SG-1000 saw the light. The home consoles market was still at the beginning and the console was distributed almost exclusively in Japan, even though some rebranded version were available in Australia and New Zealand, Taiwan and even in Italy and Spain.
Due to the initial insuccess of the Famicom and the problems that affected the console just after the launch, the SG-1000 saw an unexpected while brief success: the demand exceeded the offer and Gulf and Western needed to reorganize to met the requests of the market. Backed by CSK, Nakayama and Rosen, former CEO of Sega, organized a buyout of the video games branch of the company and founded the new Sega Enterprises Ltd. One of the first moves was the release of a restyled version of the console, the SG-1000 II, now with detachable controllers, but by 1984, the Famicom re-gained the shares of market lost at the launch and overshadowed the poor sales of the Sega console.
The SG-1000 has in its core a NEC 780C processor clocked @ 3,58 MHz, based on the ubiquitous Zilog Z80A, one of the most popular and most affordable CPU of the early 80s.
The original controller of the SG-1000, official name SJ-200 was shaped on the form of the Atari 5200 one, but without the numeric keypad. It has a central knob to use as a joystick and two side buttons.
The last iteration of the console, the Mark III, had a controller more similar to the Master System one, with a D-pad on the left and two buttons on the right.
For its console, Sega, released also a paddle controller, something that even in the early 80s was starting to look pretty old style, something you were most likely to see on a 1st gen console.
The video processor of the SG-1000 is the Texas Instruments TMS 9918, capable of displaying 16 colors for a screen resolution of 256×192 and able to display 32 sprites on screen, each one in two colors.
During the 4-years lifespan of the console, Sega released a total of 42 games, some of which on particular Sega cards and therefore playable only with a special peripheral. Only the first year, Sega released 21 games, a rather high number for the time.
Despite the partial unsuccess of the console, the games created by Sega were quite good for the time, with colourful sprites and catchy background. Some of the titles were, of course, arcade ports that were ported also on rival and latter console, NES above all.
The early 80s were still dominated by scrooling space shoot ’em ups and the SG-1000 has in its library some remarkable titles, such as the company version of Galaga and the more advanced Gulkava, a sort of Gradius clone.
Even the platformers are well represented and probably one fo the best is Doki Doki Penguin Land.
For sure one of the most (in some way) advanced and odd at the same time is Girls Garden. Developed by Yuji Naka who will rise to popularity with the Sonic saga, it’s considered one of the first dating-sim games.
Other famous titles of the SG-1000, that we usually see ported on all the other consoles of the time are Lode Runner, Choplifter, Elevator Action, Space Invaders, Zaxxon and Wonder Boy, that will be one of the best series on the Master System.
After the release of the first model, the SG-1000, Sega developed some improved versions of the console.
The first was released in 1984 and was named SG-1000 II or, commonly Mark II. The shape is different from the original (which is more like the Master System), but it always features the top-loading cartridge slot and detachable controllers.
A further iteration, the third, named Mark III hit the shelves in Japan in October 1985 and was the last console of the family before Sega moved to the Master System project.
In parallel with the SG-1000 Sega released an home computer version of the console, the SC-3000, the first and only computer ever released by the company. It was an 8-bit machine with an aestethic that resemble the one of the home computers of the decade. The SC-3000 bombed on the market and by the end of the year only 120000 units were sold. Of course is now very sought after by the collectors, especially for the Sega completionists.
The end of the SG-1000 family in Japan, defeated by Nintendo and its Famicom didn’t killed Sega but served as a base for the spread of their console worldwide with another design and another name, the Master System.